FALLS CHURCH, Va. (DC News Now) — Khalid Mekki, owner of Bawadi Mediterranean Grill in Falls Church Va., lost his beloved niece, her husband and their three daughters to a bombing in Gaza.
Mekki said he’d been checking in on his niece, Um, regularly since the violence began after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
“I was checking on her the day before. She said everything was good but they were afraid of the bombs,” he said. “She broke my heart saying, ‘We are afraid to sleep because the sounds of these bombs is so scary.'”
The enclave has been battered by retaliatory Israeli airstrikes since Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and taking nearly 200 people as hostages.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said there will not be a ceasefire until Hamas returns the hostages, though U.S. officials announced the Israeli Defense Forces will halt fighting for four hours daily to allow civilians to flee.
Many in the enclave have found leaving Gaza to find safety to be a challenge. Israeli airstrikes have now killed more than 10,000 Gazans.
Mekki said that on Nov. 5, an airstrike hit Um’s family home, killing all five inside. Her two sons, a 17-year-old and a 2-year-old, were outside at the time. They survived, though the older boy sustained severe injuries.
“One of my brothers called me and broke the news. That was a sad day,” he said.
He said that the boys are now living with an uncle in Gaza.
Word of Mekki’s loss spread among his customers, who delivered their condolences when visiting the restaurant. Some asked how he gets through the day running his restaurant.
“My heart breaks every second. People come here and say, ‘How can you do this?’ And I swear I don’t know. Sometimes with calamity, God gives you some patience too,” he said.
In August, Mekki went abroad to see family for the first time in years. He said he wasn’t allowed to pass through Tel Aviv, though, because he was born in Gaza. It turned out the trip that never happened would have been his final chance to see his niece.
“It was a very stressful time,” he said.
Mekki hopes for a ceasefire so that Gazans can receive adequate humanitarian relief.
“Their means of life is just disappearing. I mean they’re not getting water. Last I talked to my brother he said ‘We’re not getting water to wash our faces,'” Mekki said.
On Monday, Nov. 13, Mekki said he intends to donate half the restaurant’s proceeds to provide humanitarian relief for the children still in Gaza.